Government needs to understand, interpret complaints online: PM Lee

[UPDATE on 24 Nov, 10:45am: adding quotes from what PM Lee said at the forum]

While unhappy citizens use the internet and social media to vent their frustrations, the government must learn and understand these views and interpret them objectively, said PM Lee on Friday.

Speaking on Friday evening at Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao's 90th anniversary celebrations, he said new media users in any country are likely to be anti-establishment, and the government "cannot always be looking to see if the Internet approves or disapproves" of its policies.

"People who are content don't have time to go online,  those who are unhappy will complain online," said Mr Lee in Mandarin, as reported in The Business Times. "I am not saying all contrarian views are complaints, but this seems to be a worldwide trend. Therefore, we need to understand these views, and interpret it objectively," he said.

He was responding to a question during the forum session about what the government thinks of views that it is disconnected from the people.

"So the government must do its work," he continued. "We can't always be looking to see if the internet approves or disapproves… but after doing our work, we must try our best to communicate with people and let people understand what we are doing."

"We can't wish for new media not to exist, but we can try our best to use it," he added.

He also said during his keynote speech that Singapore's online space must fight against trolling, as it deters serious readers from participating in debate and ruins the overall atmosphere in cyberspace.

It is not about whether people agree or disagree online, he continued, but that it is "totally unacceptable" for discussion and debate to degenerate into abuse and hate-mongering.

"We must fight back against trolling, and provide a safe, responsible online environment which promotes constructive participation," he said.

Requiring people to log in to various platforms to comment on articles is a method that has proved instrumental to improving the quality of discussion, said Lee, who cited TODAY as an example for requiring commenters to log in with their Facebook accounts to post their views.

Yahoo Singapore, in turn, requires users to sign into their Yahoo, Facebook or Google accounts before being able to comment on its articles, and Lee announced at the same time that the government's feedback portal REACH will from mid-December require commenters to log in first before posting.

PM Lee also noted how people "no longer read papers or news online" but instead rely on friends' recommendations via social media.

The media, he said, is now "pulled" on demand rather than "pushed" to captive audiences, and the rise of numerous alternative free sources of news online is adding pressure on paid news providers like Zaobao.

He pointed out, however, that "news that travels fastest may not be the most accurate", and that "immediate consensus views may not gel with considered analyses". It is also easier to coalesce in narrower groups, hence tougher to forge a national consensus, he added.

Lee also touched on the recent hacking threats and the rising problem of cyber-bullying. He also highlighted the government's efforts to harmonise its new media rules with those for the mainstream media, in the form of the Media Development Authority's licensing framework and disallowing news and current affairs sites from receiving foreign funding.

"These challenges are not easy to solve. But the new media is already a reality and an indispensable part of our lives," he said. "We must do more to harness its potential to improve our lives, while reducing its downsides."

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